Not being a strong swimmer in my youth, I came close to drowning a few times. On two of those occasions, I was in the midst of a group of friends who had no idea I was fighting for my life, because I did it so quietly. Thankfully, twice, my boyfriend noticed just in time, or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it. However, not until I came across this article about drowning, did I realize how typical my experience was.
Vittone is a former Coast Guard swimmer who has dedicated his life to preventing catastrophe on the water. In his article, “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning,” a condensed version of which will appear in the August issue of Reader’s Digest, he points out that in 10 percent of all childhood drownings, adults actually witness the event but don’t realize what is happening. This is a shocking statistic, but, given my experience, I don’t doubt the truth of it.
In his explanation, he describes something called the Instinctive Drowning Response, a term coined by Francesco Pia, PhD. According to Pia, while in the process of drowning, a person quickly loses voluntary control of arms and legs, rendering him unable to reach out or move toward something which would save him, and because his respiratory system is totally occupied attempting its first function – breathing- there’s simply no chance for a secondary function such as calling out.
Vittone gives a complete list of possible signs of drowning. Several of them are not things that would be obvious to a casual observer. Given the extraordinarily hot summer we are having, even non swimmers are driven to seek relief at local pools, so I urge everyone to visit his website and equip himself with the knowledge provided there. There’s also a Facebook page which is easy to share with friends.
I don’t know Mr. Vittone, but you can understand why I applaud his efforts and want to spread awareness of his message. I long ago thanked my childhood sweetheart for (twice!) giving me the chance to live long enough to learn to swim well, so I could finish growing up. Because of his alertness way back then, I am here now to enjoy watching my grandchildren frolicking in the pool on this steamy, beautiful summer day in Montclair.